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Monthly Review: January 2007


This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

1. Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2007: Some Increases for Science
2. The Skinny on the President's Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request
3. Repeal of Oil and Gas Tax Incentives
4. Bill for College Student Loan Relief
5. Climate Change in Congress
6. President's State of the Union Addresses Energy and Climate
7. NRC Report on Earth-Observing Priorities
8. Research and Development to Meet Future Energy Needs
9. USGS Reports on Nation's Mineral Production
10. Join Us for Congressional Visits Day on May 1-2
11. Key Federal Register Notices
12. New Updates to the Web

1. Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2007: Some Increases for Science

Even though the President released his fiscal year 2008 budget request on February 5th, Congress still has to finish work on the budget for fiscal year 2007. The nascent 110th Congress decided in January to consider passing another continuing resolution for the full year rather than try to pass 9 separate appropriation bills leftover from the 109th Congress.

On January 30th, the House passed a new continuing resolution (H.J. 20) that would fund most of the government at the lowest of two possible levels either the fiscal year 2006 or the House-approved levels. The resolution worked out jointly by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) and Senate Appropriations Chairman, Robert Byrd (D-WV) added some adjustments that would increase funding for some research and education. The resolution explicitly eliminates earmarks and hopes to put a moratorium on earmarking until a reformed process is put in place.

The adjustments would include a proposed 6 percent increase compared to fiscal year 2006 funding for the National Science Foundation, so the agency would receive an increase of $335 million for a total budget of $5,916.2 million and $4,665.95 million would be allocated for Research and Related Activities, a 7.7 percent increase for that account. The Office of Science in the Department of Energy would receive a 5.6 percent increase compared to fiscal year 2006 funding for a total budget of $3,796.4 million. The Office would see a $200 million increase plus $130 million of previously earmarked funds that can be re-allocated for other purposes. Also within the Department of Energy, the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Resources program would receive $1.5 billion, an increase of $300 million to accelerate research and development activities for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.

No adjustments for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) were included in the joint resolution, so NOAA and NASA would have flat budgets, however, some funds for research and development would be available because earmarks would be eliminated. In addition, the resolution specifies funding levels for NASA's science mission as follows: Science, Aeronautics and Exploration would receive $10 billion, of which $5.2 billion would be for science, $890 million would be for aeronautics research and $3.4 billion would be for exploration systems.

The U. S. Geological Survey would receive $977.6 million, which includes the restoration of the President's requested cut to the Mineral Resources Program (about $22 million) and a small increase over the fiscal year 2006 budget. The Smithsonian Institution would receive $533 million, a decrease compared to a budget of $618 million for fiscal year 2006; however, the funds would not be required to apply to a specific grant for the Council of American Overseas Research Centers or for the reopening of the Patent Office Building.

The resolution also would include increases for Pell Grants for undergraduate education, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund for water and wastewater infrastructure projects in every state, for parks and other lands to cover budget shortfalls and for the Forest Service/Wildland fire management account to meet shortfalls caused by the intense 2006 wildfire season.

The legislation now must be considered by the Senate and then if necessary voted on again by both chambers. If the legislation passes, it would then need to be signed by the President. The current continuing resolution expires on February 15th, so Congress does not have much time left. If Congress is unable to pass this legislation or some amended resolution, the government will shut down the day after Valentine's Day.

More information about the federal research and development budget for fiscal year 2007 is available at the American Association for the Advancement of Science

2. The Skinny on the President's Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Request

President George W. Bush released the fiscal year 2008 budget request on February 5th. Within the $2.9 trillion budget request, the President stated a strong commitment to observing, protecting and managing Earth resources and developing alternative energy resources.

For Earth resources, the President referred to a quartet of science agencies, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA), to continue integrated programs to understand Earth processes. Highlights from the White House budget summaries include:
"(1) $1.6 billion to develop new sensors and conduct research that will expand scientific understanding of the Earth system. (2) Over $800 million to improve weather forecasting capabilities by developing and acquiring geostationary and polar-orbiting weather satellites and unmanned aircraft systems to improve forecasting and our understanding of the climate. (3) Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System: An additional $2 million to strengthen tsunami detection and warning capabilities. (4) The Asia-Pacific Partnership (APP): Works with international partners, Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea, to promote U.S. and partner exports in the field of clean energy and environmental goods and services. (5) Ocean Action Plan: Protecting ocean and coastal resources with $143 million in new projects to advance ocean science ($80M), protect and restore sensitive coastal areas ($38M), and ensure sustainable use of ocean resources ($25M)."

For energy resources, the President promoted his Advanced Energy Initiative, which was first introduced in the President's 2006 State of the Union Address last year. Highlights from the White House budget summaries include:
"(1) Coal Research Initiative: $385 million to complete the President's commitment to invest $2 billion over 10 years - three years ahead of schedule- to develop technologies to reduce air emissions while providing domestically secure, cost-efficient electricity from America's huge coal reserve. (2) FutureGen Project: $108 million towards construction of a nearly emissions-free coal plant that captures and stores carbon dioxide rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. (3) Solar America Initiative: $148 million toward the goal of making solar technology cost competitive with conventional electricity by 2025. (4) Biofuels Initiative: $179 million to research the production of cellulosic ethanol from corn and to make other organic materials available as a competitive energy alternative by 2012. (5) Hydrogen Fuel Initiative: $309 million will complete the President's five-year, $1.2 billion commitment to support the development of commercially viable hydrogen technologies and fuel cell vehicles by 2020. (6) Nuclear Power 2010: $114 million-more than double the funding in the 2007 Budget-toward this $1.1 billion government/ private sector partnership to license new reactors and for private industry to obtain licenses for new designs that could result in new power plants ordered by 2009 and operating by 2014. (7) Global Nuclear Energy Partnership: $395 million to continue strong support for engineering and design of advanced reactors and new nuclear waste recycling approaches with the potential to reduce the toxicity and volume of nuclear waste that requires disposal in a permanent repository. Solving the nuclear waste issue paves the way for expanding the safe use of nuclear power around the world and at home, promotes nuclear nonproliferation, and resolves nuclear waste disposal issues through an international framework. (8) Advanced Battery Research: $42 million to accelerate research on advanced battery technologies for "plug-in" hybrid vehicles that can be recharged at night."

The President requests a total budget for fiscal year 2008 for the following programs that fund Earth sciences, with percentage increase or decrease compared to the fiscal year 2007 budget request in parentheses:

Department of Energy, Office of Science: $4.4 billion (+7.2 percent)
Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy: $863 million (+33 percent)
Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management: $5.6 billion (-3 percent)
Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy: $875 million (+38.2 percent)
Department of Energy, Office of Civilian Nuclear Waste Management (includes the Yucca Mountain Geologic Waste Repository: $494.5 million (-9.2 percent)

National Science Foundation (NSF): $6.43 billion (+6.8 percent)
U.S. Geological Survey: $975 million (+3 percent)*
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): $3.8 billion (+3.4 percent)
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): $17.3 billion (+3 percent)

*The President's fiscal year 2007 budget request for the U.S. Geological Survey included a $22 million reduction in the Mineral Resources Program and the percent change for fiscal year 2008 assumes this reduction will take affect for fiscal year 2007. However as indicated in the previous summary of the continuing fiscal year 2007 budget deliberations, the House has voted to restore funding for the Mineral Resources Program, so the final difference in the U.S. Geological Survey presidential request may amount to as little as less than a one percent increase overall.

More information about the federal research and development budget for fiscal year 2008 is available at the American Association for the Advancement of Science

3. Repeal of Oil and Gas Tax Incentives

On January 18th, the House passed the Creating Long-Term Energy Alternatives for the Nation Act of 2007, or the CLEAN Energy Act of 2007 (H.R.6), in a 264 to 163 vote. Part of Congress's first 100 hours, this legislation is designed to reduce the nation's dependency on foreign oil by investing in clean, renewable, and alternative energy resources.

The bill, which has yet to pass the Senate, would amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to repeal tax incentives for domestic oil and natural gas production. It would also require companies to renegotiate 1998 and 1999 leases in the Gulf of Mexico that lack price thresholds triggering royalty payments. According to a Platts Inside Energy article, Democrats have estimated that the value of the bill to federal coffers would be about $14 billion. This money would be directed to a "strategic energy efficiency and renewable energy reserve," which would be made available to "offset the cost of subsequent legislation" geared toward the research and development of clean renewable energy technologies.

Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) said "We will begin to move in a new, clean direction on energy and put an end to the free ride that big oil has had under the Bush Administration and this bill is a beginning. It is the beginning of a change in direction, away from subsidizing an industry that doesn't need extra financial incentives, and towards the technologies that do need a helping hand."

The bill, however, does not have widespread support. Although 36 Republicans voted in favor of H.R.6 in the House, it is expected to encounter significant opposition from the rest of the Republican Party. Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL) has voiced his opposition to the bill, saying it "will raise energy prices for American consumers, stifle domestic energy production, and increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy."

4. Bill for College Student Loan Relief

For millions of student borrowers, the College Student Relief Act of 2007 (H.R.5) may offer some hope for reducing their debt burden. Sponsored by Representative George Miller (D-CA), the bill would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 and reduce interest rates on certain student loans. The student-loan bill aims to phase-in cuts in the annual interest rates charged undergraduate student borrowers under the Federal Family Education Loan and Direct Loan programs from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent over five years.

As the cost of a college education continues to escalate, the inclusion of such a bill in the new Congress's first 100 hours is a helpful sign. However, in a statement released through the Department of Education, President Bush stated his opposition to the bill, saying that "reducing student loan interest rates would direct federal subsidies to college graduates, not to students and their families who are struggling to meet current and future educational expenses." The statement asserted the Administration's commitment to "continue to work with Congress on a comprehensive approach to improve college access for the neediest students, in a fiscally responsible manner."

According to the 2002 Nellie Mae National Student Loan Survey, undergraduate student loan debt has increased significantly since 1997. The average undergraduate debt is $18,900, up 66 percent from $11,400 in 1997. More recent numbers have not yet come out, but student loan debt is sure to increase in step with the skyrocketing cost of a college education. Last year alone, the average total tuition and fees at four-year public colleges rose 6.3% to $5,836, according to the College Board's 2006 Trends in College Pricing report. For students at private four-year colleges, the price rose 5.9 percent to $22,218.

As of January 17th, H.R.5 has passed the House and been received in the Senate, where it was referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

5. Climate Change in Congress

The new Democratic majority of the 110th Congress has made climate change a major issue in their first month of work. Democrats have formed new committees, there have been several hearings on climate change and many new bills on climate change have been introduced.

On January 30th, the House and Senate held high profile hearings on climate change. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the political influence on government climate scientists on January 30th and received frank testimony about censorship, political editing of scientific results in government reports, cherry-picking science to suit political agendas and the intermixing of science and policy. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing entitled "Senators' Perspectives on Global Warming" and 33 senators offered their viewpoints on the science and whether to consider policy action. The testimony and web cast archives of both hearings are available at the committees' web sites.

In addition, a bevy of bills have been introduced to directly or indirectly try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. For the most part, the new bills would take small and specific steps to reduce emissions. Possible steps include imposing an excise tax on non-alternative fuel vehicles, improving vehicle fuel efficiency standards, amending the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide or to promote alternative fuel use, and developing a market-based cap and trade system for carbon emissions.

6. President's State of the Union Addresses Energy and Climate

In his seventh State of the Union Address, President Bush presented the nation with an ambitious new energy plan that focuses on increasing fuel economy and alternative fuel availability, stating that the nation's dependency on foreign oil "leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes and to terrorists who could…do great harm to our economy." Coining a new catch phrase, President Bush urged Americans to "reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next ten years." Such a reduction would, the Administration claims, allow the United States to cut total imports by about three-quarters of the oil now imported from the Middle East.

Achieving the President's "twenty in ten" goal, however, demands a dramatic increase in the availability of alternative energy sources. The President challenged lawmakers and private industry to replace 15 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption with alternative fuels by 2017. "It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply, and the way forward is through technology," he said. He also asked Congress to reform Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards for cars and to extend the current light truck rule, which would reduce the projected annual gasoline use by 20 percent.
The President also asked Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to 1.5 billion barrels by 2027, a move that would provide about 97 days of net oil import protection.

And in a historic break from his past reluctance to acknowledge climate change pressures, the President asserted that his energy plan will "help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change."

In his rebuttal, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) noted that "this is the seventh time the president has mentioned energy independence in his state of the union message, but for the first time this exchange is taking place in a Congress led by the Democratic Party. We are looking for affirmative solutions that will strengthen our nation by freeing us from energy independence on foreign oil, and spurring a wave of entrepreneurial growth in the form of alternative energy programs." In their joint statement, Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi commended the President's goals for energy independence and commented that "we now must get straight to work on a real national energy policy."

7. NRC Report on Earth-Observing Priorities

In January, the National Research Council (NRC) released a report entitled "Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond (2007)". The report was requested by NASA, NOAA and the USGS to generate consensus among the Earth and environmental sciences community regarding space-based mission priorities to understand the Earth system over the next decade. Over 100 Earth scientists provided input for the report and they concluded that the U.S. government needs to fund about 17 new Earth observing missions over the next decade.

Unfortunately, as the report notes the annual budget for Earth science within NASA is about $500 million less (in 2006 dollars) than in 2000. NASA has been forced to reduce funding for critical Earth observing missions and the number of instruments on NASA missions will fall by 40 percent by 2010 if additional funding is not provided.

The report recommends increasing funding for Earth observations and spending about $3 billion annually to achieve national priorities with regards to a better understanding of the Earth system. The report provides a prioritized list of recommendations regarding which specific instruments and/or missions to fund and how to distribute the funding over the next decade.

The NRC report is available online as a pdf

8. Research and Development to Meet Future Energy Needs

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a 73-page report on "Key Challenges Remain for Developing and Deploying Advanced Energy Technologies to Meet Future Needs" in December 2006 and the report was posted online in January. The summary starts with a very stark historical budget fact "DOE's total budget authority for energy R&D dropped by over 85 percent (in real terms) from 1978 to 2005, peaking in the late 1970s but falling sharply when oil prices returned to lower levels in the mid-1980s. "

The GAO examined the (1) R&D funding trends and strategies for developing advanced energy technologies, (2) key barriers to developing and deploying advanced energy technologies, and (3) efforts of the states and six selected countries to develop and deploy advanced energy technologies. The GAO also spoke with DOE officials and scientists and stakeholders outside of DOE. The report concludes that Congress should consider stimulating a more diversified energy portfolio by focusing R&D funding on advanced energy technologies.

The full report is available online as a pdf

9. USGS Reports on Nation's Mineral Production

The U.S. Geological Survey released a report on the value of U.S. non-fuel mine production in 2005. Production rose by 18 percent from $54.6 billion in 2005 to $64.4 billion in 2006. Demand for metals and industrial minerals in the U.S., China and other countries remains high and is keeping prices high.

The estimated total value of domestically processed non-fuel mineral materials was about $542 billion in 2006 compared to $493 billion in 2005. The report includes events, trends and outlooks for about 90 mineral commodities.

"Mineral Commodity Summaries 2007" is available on the USGS Web site.

10. Join Us for Congressional Visits Day on May 1-2

Join us for the 12th annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD) on May 1-2, 2007. This two-day annual event brings scientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and technology executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for science, engineering, and technology. Participants will spend the first day learning about how Congress works, the current state of the budget process and how to conduct congressional visits. The second day will consist of visits with members of Congress. In addition to the workshops and visits, participants will get to meet other scientists and engineers, meet federal science agency representatives and attend a reception and breakfasts at which members of Congress will speak and meet with the audience.

Please consider participating in these visits and plan early to come to Washington DC. Many scientific societies are involved in CVD, including several of AGI's Member Societies. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the American Geophysical Union, the Geological Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America are very active participating societies in CVD and can help coordinate your visits. In addition these societies and AGI will coordinate some geoscience activities on May 1.

Individuals interested in participating should contact the Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Key Federal Register Notices

EPA: The EPA is proposing amendments to the General Provisions to the national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants (NESHAP). The proposed amendments provide that a major source may become an area source at any time by limiting its potential to emit hazardous air pollutants (HAP) to below the major source thresholds of 10 tons per year (tpy) of any single HAP or 25 tpy of any combination of HAP.Written comments must be received on or before March 5, 2007. For more information contact Rick Colyer, Program Design Group (D205-02), Sector Policies and Programs Division, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, U.S. EPA, Research Triangle Park, NC 27711, telephone number (919) 541-5262, electronic mail (e-mail) address, colyer.rick@epa.gov.
[Federal Register: January 3, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 1)]

NSF: The Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering will meet on February 1 and 2, 2007 at the National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Room 1235 S, Arlington, VA 22304. Contact Person: Dr. Margaret E.M. Tolbert, Senior Advisor and Executive Liaison, CEOSE, Office of Integrative Activities, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230. Telephone: (703) 292-8040. mtolbert@nsf.gov.
[Federal Register: January 16, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 9)]

NASA: Notice to NASA employees, former NASA employees, and applicants for NASA employment regarding rights and protections available under Federal antidiscrimination and whistleblower protection laws.
[Federal Register: January 17, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 10)]

DOE: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy is soliciting nominations for candidates to serve as members of the Ultra-Deepwater Advisory Committee. Nominations must be received by February 2, 2007. For information regarding this Request for Nominations please contact Ms. Elena Melchert, Mr. Bill Hochheiser, or Mr. James Slutz, Designated Federal Official (DFO), Ultra-Deepwater Advisory Committee, at ultradeepwater@hq.doe.gov or (202) 586-5600.
[Federal Register: January 24, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 15)]

NOAA: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce announces the availability of and seeks public comment on the draft (2007) Strategic Plan for Fisheries Research. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) requires the Secretary of Commerce to develop, triennially, a strategic plan for fisheries research for the subsequent years. Any written comments on the draft plan will be considered by NMFS in the development of the final 2007 Strategic Plan for Fisheries Research. Comments on the plan must be received on or before February 23, 2007. Comments on and requests for the draft NMFS Strategic Plan for Fisheries Research (2007) should be directed to Mark Chandler, Office of Science and Technology, NMFS, NOAA, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. phone: (301) 713-2367 ext. 152, fax: (301) 713-1875, e-mail: NSPFR.comments@noaa.gov.
[Federal Register: January 24, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 15)]

EPA: EPA gives notice of a public teleconference of the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT). NACEPT provides advice to the EPA Administrator on a broad range of environmental policy, technology, and management issues. The purpose of this teleconference is to discuss and approve an initial set of recommendations on EPA's role in the sustainable development of biofuels. A copy of the agenda for the meeting will be posted at http://www.epa.gov/ocem/nacept/cal-nacept.htm. NACEPT will hold a public teleconference on Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The meeting will be held in the U.S. EPA Office of Cooperative Environmental Management at 655 15th Street, NW., Suite 800, Washington, DC 20005.For more information contact Sonia Altieri, Designated Federal Officer, altieri.sonia@epa.gov, (202) 233-0061, U.S. EPA, Office of Cooperative Environmental Management (1601E), 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20460.
[Federal Register: January 29, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 18)]

USGS: The Scientific Earthquake Studies Advisory Committee of the U.S. Geological Survey will hold its 15th meeting at the U.S. Geological Survey, John Wesley Powell National Center, Room 1B215, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, Virginia 20192 on February 12 and 13, 2007. Contact Dr. David Applegate, (703) 648-6714 or applegate@usgs.gov for more information.
[Federal Register: January 30, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 19)]

DOE: The Energy Information Administration is soliciting comments on the proposed new survey, "Natural Gas Processing Plant Survey". When activated, this new survey will collect information on the status and operations of natural gas processing plants for use during periods of supply disruption in areas affected by an emergency, such as a hurricane. Comments must be filed by April 2, 2007. Send comments to Barbara Mariner-Volpe, Natural Gas Division, (EI-44), Forrestal Building, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC 20585-0670. Ms. Mariner-Volpe may be contacted by telephone at (202) 586-5878, FAX at (202) 586-4420, or e-mail at Barbara.MarinerVolpe@eia.doe.gov
[Federal Register: January 30, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 19)]

New Updates to the Website

The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:
Hearings on Energy Policy (1-22-07)
Action Alert: Request NSF Support From Senate (1-19-07)
Action Alert: Request NSF Support Tomorrow (1-11-07)

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Monthly Review prepared by Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs and Erin Gleeson 2007 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern.

Sources: New York Times, AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program, Associated Press, Washington Post, Greenwire, E&E Daily, Library of Congress, Congressional Quarterly, Department of the Interior, House Committee on Appropriations, White House Office of Public Affairs, Platts Inside Energy, U.S. Geological Survey, National Research Council and Government Accountability Office.

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This monthly review goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee, the leadership of AGI's member societies, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves. Prior updates can be found on the AGI web site under "Public Policy" <http://www.agiweb.org>. For additional information on specific policy issues, please visit the web site or contact us at <govt@agiweb.org> or (703) 379-2480, ext. 228.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted February 6, 2007.

 

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